We must ask "WHY?"

We must ask "WHY?"

WHY?

WHY?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

TRIANGLE FIRE: COMING FULL CIRCLE?

My friend and brother firefighter Stan sent me this. So here it is.

'From Don Konkle PFESI Executive Director Those that ignore history must repeat it.

The Philadelphia Daily News
March 25, 2011
OVER THE DECADES, the annual commemoration of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire has provided an opportunity to look back from our enlightened time to marvel at the venality of the factory owners whose greed and indifference led to the horrific deaths of 146 people, most of them immigrant women and girls.

But on today's 100th anniversary of the fire, here's what's stunning: How many of the discredited notions that contributed to the tragedy - extreme individualism, rejection of government regulation and fear of union "socialism" - are making a comeback.

The Triangle Shirtwaist (blouse) factory was on the four top floors of a "modern" 10-story "skyscraper" in Manhattan. Near quitting time on March 25, 1911, fire broke out on the eighth floor. Fueled by piles of paper patterns and fabric, it burned out of control in minutes, trapping 200 workers on the ninth floor.

Firefighters were helpless to rescue them because their ladders reached to only the sixth floor. And one of the two exit doors had been locked so workers could be searched to prevent employee pilfering. About 90 of the victims died not from the fire but from falls when a fire escape collapsed. And many jumped to their deaths.

Available technology like sprinkler systems, fire walls and well-built fire escapes could have prevented the fire or limited its scope, but such safety measures weren't required by law, so they weren't installed.

It's not as if the workers didn't try to change things. In 1909, 10,000 garment workers, most of them women, struck for better conditions. They endured savage beatings by police as New York's corrupt political machine, Tammany Hall, showed whose side it was on. In an HBO documentary on the fire this week, a descendant of onetime Tammany functionary (and eventual reformer, Gov. Al Smith) put it this way: "They looked out for the people giving them the money."

Besides, factory owners believed that their factories were strictly private property and that any attempt to impose safety regulations represented an attack on the liberty of the people who drive the economy. Sound familiar? So there were no safety regulations, no minimum-wage law, no prohibition of child labor - until 146 people died.

Quickly acquitted of manslaughter charges by an all-male jury, the two owners actually made $60,000 in insurance money. But the horror touched the conscience of ordinary people, who forced a turning point in labor rights and workplace safety.

Many people assumed there was no going back. Yet the current campaign against collective-bargaining rights of public workers in several states sure looks like a step in that direction. (And U.S. House Republicans recently introduced legislation that would cut off food stamps to an entire family if one of its members is on strike.)

Today, the memorial at the Triangle building, which still stands, will include the reading of each victim's name as a bell is rung. But this anniversary should also provide a refresher course on what happens when the workplace balance of power tips too far in one direction. We may not see a return to the horrific conditions of those garment workers, but we are on our way back to a time when government "looked out for the people giving them the money."

Copyright 2011 Philadelphia Newspapers, LLCAll Rights Reserved
The Philadelphia Daily News
'

Last night, a family had THE CLOSEST of calls, directly because of Leightons cutbacks. I've got to wait for legal advise before I post about it. Sorry you have to wait. But Leighton isn't.

Dan Emplit WBFD

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